MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) - After 10 months in detention, members of a group of health workers accused of communist links face freedom.
On Friday late afternoon, local courts in Rizal province issued a release order for the "Morong 43," a moniker given by human rights groups and the media to a group arrested in a farm house in the town of Morong in Rizal last February 6 on allegations that they are communist rebels engaged in bomb-making activities.
Release of the 43 members -- of whom 35 are detained at the Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City; 5 are in Camp Capinpin in Tanay Rizal; one confined in Taguig Hospital, and; two have given birth in a hospital -- is based on an order issued by the order issued by the Morong regional and municipal trial courts.
The release order was issued after the Department of Justice, which was implementing an instruction from President Benigno Aquino III, filed before the court a motion to withdraw the charges.
President Aquino gave the order during the global commemoration of the Human Rights Day last December 10 based on reports that the 'Morong 43' members were denied due process.
The "Morong 43" case has been hailed as a human rights violation.
Their release came 13 days after Luis Jalandoni, the self-exiled chief peace negotiator of the National Democratic Front (NDF), arrived in Manila.
Jalandoni's return came after the government and the the Communist group forged an 18-day holiday ceasefire, the longest agreed between the two parties in the last 10 years and the first after both sides suspended peace talks in 2004. Formal peace negotiations are scheduled in February.
Health workers or communists?
The military has been firm that the "Morong 43" are members of the New People's Army, the armed wing of a rebel group under Jalandoni's NDF.
The military has insisted that they did not plant the explosives, firearms, subversive documents seized from the health workers last February.
"The court knows best. We feel no remorse. Let us just make sure that next time the NPAs will NOT BE ABLE TO USE MORE EXPLOSIVES in killing civilians just like what happened to Samar 11," Col. Antonio Parlade said in a text message to ABS-CBN News when asked to react about the news of the Morong 43 release.
"Let us not allow more trainings on the use of explosives by healthworkers in the future. Next we see them do these, in plain view, even civilians can arrest them without warrant. They just have to turn them over to proper authorities," he added.
Members and supporters of the "Morong 43," however, have repeatedly denied any link with the communist group, claiming they were on a medical training mission on the day of their arrest.
Various health, human rights, and media organizations condemned their arrest.
Their supporters include members of the Philippine Nurses Association, Association of Philippine Medical Colleges and the University Student Council of UP Manila who have banded together to denounce the military’s detention of the "Morong 43."
A hunger strike by the "Morong 43" and their supporters was ongoing when President Aquino ordered the withdrawal of charges against them.
One of "Morong 43" members is currently confined at the Taguig Hospital after joining the hunger strike.
Two have given birth.
The 35 have been detained for 10 months since their arrest. Cases of rebellion and illegal possesion of firearms and explosives were filed against them by the police and the military at the Morong RTC.
Five group members have been detained at a military facility in Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal. They face other charges, ranging from murder, rape, and others, after reportedly admitting to being communist rebels.
The 5 were also included in the release order as their arrest was considered wrongful because of the "deffective warrant."
Waiting for release
Friends, family, and supporters of the "Morong 43" received a copy of the release order at around 430 p.m. They have been waiting outside the court in Rizal since early Friday morning in anticipation of the release order.
The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology said they will start processing the release of the "Morong 43" detainees as soon as they receive a physical copy of the court's release order.
Metro Manila District Jail Warden Mary Jane Clemente explained that "Hindi sabay-sabay [ang pag-release namin] sa 'Morong 43'... Basta kumpleto ang papers nila [we will process] kahit [abutin ng] Saturday o Sunday." - with reports from Atom Araullo, Gretchen Malalad, and Chiara Zambrano of ABS-CBN News